LOS ANGELES (JTA) – UCLA has some proud moments in the history of civil liberties.
After World War II, UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, were the hotbeds of opposition to an anti-communist loyalty oath that California tried to impose on academics. Ultimately the professors won in court in 1954.
Sixty years later, a different pressure group purportedly speaking for the “progressive” grassroots wants to impose on UCLA students a loyalty oath of sorts — a pledge foreswearing going on trips to Israel sponsored by certain Jewish organizations. Issued by five pro-Palestinian groups, the call demanded that candidates for student government take the pledge.
Who would have thought that McCarthyite tactics would be used to target, harass and intimidate pro-Israel students — Jewish and non-Jewish — at UCLA? There are ominous echoes here of both the medieval witch hunts against Jews and Stalin’s show trials.
Leading the charge is Students for Justice in Palestine, which is funded in part by two organizations dedicated to the destruction of Israel, American Muslims for Palestine and Al-Awda.
SJP is using cyberbullying to punish Jewish students in the UCLA student government majority who voted against a recent resolution to divest from and boycott Israel. Jewish students who opposed the resolution reportedly feel uncomfortable even walking on campus because of the hate mail they have received.
Adding insult to injury, SJP has introduced an initiative calling for a judicial board investigation of student council members who have taken trips to Israel sponsored by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hasbara Fellowships — the SJP deems the groups have “political agendas that marginalize multiple communities on campus.”
On other campuses across the country, SJP tactics include mock eviction notices against Jewish students, “die-ins,” and promotions of virulently anti-Israel speakers and events.
The SJP initiative demanding that candidates for student government positions sign a pledge not to take certain trips to Israel violates both the UCLA Principles of Community Conduct and the Student Conduct Code against harassment of all kinds.
Unfortunately, what’s happening at UCLA is not an aberration but part of a national trend. Here are examples from a coast-to-coast report compiled by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a founder of the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit group that combats campus anti-Semitism:
* At UC Davis, a student who expressed concern about anti-Semitic banners displayed at an anti-Israel “occupation” rally was physically assaulted by a protester who screamed in his face, “You are racist and you should die in hell.”
* At UC Berkeley, a Jewish girl holding an “Israel wants peace” sign was ramrodded with a shopping cart by the head of the local SJP chapter.
* At San Francisco State University last fall, the General Union of Palestine Students hosted an all-day event where participants could make posters and T-shirts that said, “My heroes have always killed colonizers” — meaning Jews.
* At Harvard University, the Palestine Security Committee frightened Jewish students by placing mock eviction notices on their dormitory rooms.
* At Northeastern University in Boston, SJP vandalized a menorah and disrupted Jewish events.
* At the University of Michigan, anti-Israel student activists hurled death threats at Jewish student council members and called them “dirty Jew” and “kike.”
Why is it that so many university administrators and academics seem paralyzed to act if the victims of campus bullying are Zionist Jews?
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s reactions to the developments on his campus have been unsatisfactory. First, according to the Daily Bruin, he wanted to “leave the matter to be resolved by students.” Later, he said, “I am troubled that the pledge can reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints from the discussion,” but he nevertheless stood up for the pledge as free speech protected by the First Amendment.
By defending the organized demands that students who have taken sponsored trips to Israel should disqualify themselves from participating in UCLA student body elections as “sacrosanct” and “within the realm of free speech,” Block is doing more harm than good. It’s the equivalent to leaving the matter to a lynch mob seeking to bar Jews from the fundamental rights of political association and free expression.
Aggrieved UCLA students have had to turn to the University of California system’s president, Janet Napolitano, and the Regents in an attempt for relief. Napolitano released a statement saying she shared Block’s concerns.
Is it so-called free speech when the goal is to end Jewish students’ full access to free expression and politically active lives on campus? Dressing up intimidation as a “sanctified” right is an obscene distortion of the First Amendment.
It’s time for our colleges and universities to rediscover their moral compass. If necessary, major Jewish donors should withhold their gifts. Jewish philanthropists should support only schools that protect the rights of all students to participate fully in campus life from the quad to the classroom without fear or intimidation — including lovers of Zion.
(Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance. Aron Hier is the Wiesenthal Center’s director of campus outreach. Historian Harold Brackman also contributed to this piece.)